Cables Paint Unflattering Picture Of Karzai's Brother

Documents written by American diplomats and obtained by the group WikiLeaks showcase something that's long been known about Afghanistan: that corruption is widespread and an obstacle to success in the war there. The diplomatic cables, in particular, reveal concerns about the brother of the Afghan president. Ahmed Wali Karzai is a top official in Kandahar.

GUY RAZ, host:

And as Ari mentioned, the WikiLeaks cables paint an unflattering portrait of both President Hamid Karzai and his brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai. Wali Karzai leads the provincial council in Kandahar City.

NPR's Tom Bowman interviewed Ahmed Wali Karzai back in June. He's also been looking into the WikiLeaks cables for insight into what Karzai was saying publicly and what was being said about him privately.

TOM BOWMAN: I met Ahmed Wali Karzai at the governor's palace in Kandahar City. And like the cables said, he appeared nervous.

Mr. AHMED WALI KARZAI (Chairman, Provincial Council, Kandahar): I know the international community is putting all the focus on me. I know all the cameras are on me.

BOWMAN: And I asked him about corruption and reports that U.S. officials are suspicious of him.

American officials went to you and said, we're watching you.

Mr. KARZAI: No, no, no.

BOWMAN: And...

Mr. KARZAI: That's absolutely - no one is able to threaten me in my own country. And if anyone has any evidence of corruption or whatever you call it, please, they should bring it over.

BOWMAN: But just a few months earlier, at the same palace, the top State Department official in southern Afghanistan, Frank Ruggiero, also sat down with Ahmed Wali Karzai. Ruggiero bluntly told him that the U.S.-led coalition would not tolerate anyone working at odds with the coalition's efforts. Ahmed Wali Karzai replied: Nobody is that stupid.

The cable written after that meeting concludes that the president's brother is widely understood to be corrupt and a narcotics trafficker. The diplomatic cables also examined the source of some of Ahmed Wali's wealth. He is understood, says one cable from last fall, to have a stake in private security contracting.

This is what Ahmed Wali said to NPR when he was later asked about contracts.

Mr. KARZAI: I swear on my children that I - since I met them I haven't signed a single contract with Americans. Anyone can bring one contract that I have benefited from. All the contracts done by U.S. military I have nothing to do with it, very simple.

BOWMAN: He has, however, other dealings. According to one cable, Karzai aggressively lobbied Canadians to have his security services hired for a dam they were building in Kandahar. And given Ahmed Wali Karzai's reputation for shady dealings, according to a cable from U.S. Ambassador Karl Eikenberry, his recommendations for large, costly infrastructure projects should be viewed with suspicion.

The cables also talk about Ahmed Wali's relationship with Kandahar Governor Toor Wesa. Wesa spent two decades as a college professor in Canada before becoming governor. When he spoke with NPR, Ahmed Wali played up the Kandahar governor.

Mr. KARZAI: To build Governor Wesa is to build his office. He has to have more qualified people around him.

BOWMAN: But when the governor tried to fire a local police commander, Ahmed Wali intervened to save the man, the diplomatic cables said.

And in his talks with American officials, Ahmed Wali Karzai said he - not the governor - was the most powerful figure in Kandahar and could deliver whatever is needed.

Ambassador Karl Eikenberry, the one who wrote that cable about Ahmed Wali's reputation for shady dealings, told NPR last spring that corruption had to be addressed.

Ambassador KARL EIKENBERRY (U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan): The government of Afghanistan owes to its people and, frankly, to the international community which is making enormous sacrifices here, a very serious effort to attack known problems of corruption. Absolutely.

BOWMAN: This is what Eikenberry also had to say in that cable. He wrote: One of our major challenges in Afghanistan, how to fight corruption and connect the people to their government, when the key government officials are themselves corrupt.

Tom Bowman, NPR News, Washington.

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